Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video HDR Pro, part of Photoshop CS5 Top 5.
Now let's take a look at what I consider to be the best new feature in all of Photoshop CS5, HDR Pro. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which lets you extract every last variation and luminance level from your digital photographs. CS5 offers two varieties of HDR. The first, HDR toning, lets you develop a fake HDR image from a single 8-bit per channel photo. It's an interesting command, but nothing to get excited about. The second, HDR Pro, takes two or more bracketed photos of the same scene preferably shot with the tripod and different exposure settings, and combines them into a work of imaging perfection that absolutely resonates with depth and detail.
Earlier versions of Photoshop let you do this too, but they didn't do it well. CS5 assembles the kinds of HDR images that professionals have been wanting from Photoshop for years. If I had to point to the one Photoshop CS5 feature of most significance to professional photographers, it would be HDR Pro. Now HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It's a way of extracting every single luminance level from your image, so that your photographs just reek with detail. Now strictly speaking, HDR is not new to CS5.
It's been with us for several versions now. It's just that its implementation in the past left something very big to be desired. It was a complex feature to use, and it underdelivered. These days we've got HDR Pro, which has been totally rewritten from the ground up. It's still a complex feature, but it gives us halfway intelligible controls, and it delivers impeccable results. So I'm going to show you two different variations on this feature. There's HDR Toning, which is a way of faking HDR effects inside of CS5, and then we'll see the real thing when we merge multiple exposures together.
So I'm going to start with this image here. It's a standard, everyday, average JPEG image. It comes to us from photographer Felix Mizioznikov of the Fotolia image library about what you can learn more at www.fotolia.com/deke. And I'll go on to the Image menu, choose Adjustments, and then chose HDR Toning. Now a few caveats about this command. It'll convert the image from its current 8-bits per channel space to 32-bits per channel, do its thing, and then take the image back to 8-bits per channel. That means you cannot apply this function as an Adjustment layer.
You cannot apply it to a smart object. You cannot even apply it to an independent layer inside the image so you can merge it with the underlying original. None of those options are available. You can only apply this command to flat images in Photoshop. Now I'm going to show you workaround once we're done. For now, I'll go ahead and choose the Command. It brings up the HDR Toning dialog box, which would better go by the name HDR Fakery. And you can see that initially it doesn't necessarily provide great results.
I'm going to go ahead and switch over to some preset options that I've saved in advance, and you can save a group of settings as a Preset just by going to this flyout menu and choosing the Save Preset command. My Presets are available to me here in the Preset pop-up menu. I'll go ahead and choose High-key portrait, which creates a kind of High-key portrait effect as you can see, here. It does blow out some of the highlights. It also clips shadow detail. That's okay, because ultimately we'll be able to blend this image with the original in order to achieve a much better effect.
I'll go ahead and click OK in order to apply the effect. But I want you to see first, we are now officially in a 32-bit per channel space, as you can see, here in the Title tab. I'll go ahead and click OK in order to accept the results. Photoshop will show me a progress bar in which it's converting the image to HDR. And then it converts the image back to 8 bits of data per channel. Now normally, were you working on a flat image inside of Photoshop, you could fade your modified image with the original by going up to the Edit menu and choosing the Fade command.
But in our case, it's dimmed. So pretty much every avenue for mixing the effect with the original image is cut off from us, save for one. I'll go ahead and escape out of here. I'll go ahead and bring up the History panel. And you can see that we have two states: Open and HDR Toning. I'm going to save off HDR Toning so that we can set it aside, come back to it later as a snapshot. So I'll drop down to this camera icon and Alt+Click on it or Option+Click on the Mac. And then I'll name this guy HDR fakery because that's what it is. And I'll click OK.
The next step is to go back to the Open state so we get back to our original image. I'll press Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+ Shift+N on the Mac to make a new layer. And I'll call this guy HDR fakery as well and click OK. Now in order to take the HDR Fakery snapshot and place it inside the HDR fakery layer, I need to make that snapshot a source by clicking to the left of it. And then I'll press a little known keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+Alt+Backspace or Command+Option+Delete, and that transfers the source state to the selection or layer.
Now I'll go ahead and hide the History panel, and now all I need to do to blend this HDR fakery layer with the underlying original is to press the 5 key in order to reduce the Opacity value to 50%, and I get this blended image here. All right. So that's one way to work. If you're just starting off with the flat image, you want to apply a faux HDR effect, the HDR Toning command is the way to go. However, let's say you want to do the real thing. You want to combine a bunch of different exposures into a high luminance image. Why then, let's go ahead and switch over to the Bridge by clicking on the Bridge icon here.
And notice here inside the Bridge that I have a variety of images that I shot using an Olympus E30 Digital SLR. And I shot all of the images using the same aperture and ISO values using a tripod as well. And I started with this 20 second Exposure shot right there. So this was a very dark barn that I captured in Steamboat Springs in my home state of Colorado. And it was a bright, sunny, snowy day, so we have a ton of light coming in through the cracks between these slats of wood.
Now in order to mitigate things, I shot a variety of different exposures. You can see this 20 second Exposure followed by a 10 second Exposure and so on, all the way down to this 0.5 second Exposure and ultimately an eighth second Exposure. And this is the darkest of the images, the shortest exposure right here in which I don't have any details inside the barn because it's too darn and dark. But I do have some detail outside to work with now. All right. So I'll go ahead and escape out. Now I'll go ahead and select all eight of these exposures by clicking on one, Shift+clicking on the other, and then going up to the Tools menu, choosing Photoshop and choosing Merge to HDR Pro.
This command is also available inside the Mini Bridge incidentally, which runs inside Photoshop CS5. As soon as I choose the command, Photoshop will go ahead and attempt to combine all of these images and align them with each other. This takes a while to occur. I should tell you. So the more images you're trying to merge, the longer it takes. However, this operation is lightning fast in CS5 when compared to its behavior in CS4 and earlier. And in the fullness of time, you'll see this Merge to HDR Pro dialog box come up onscreen.
Now I've gone ahead and saved off a preset for this image as well. So you can see these options are organized in the same way they were inside the HDR Toning dialog box. I'll go up here to the Preset menu, and I'll choose For dark interiors. And that's gone ahead and raised the Radius value so that we have more diffused edges inside of our image. If you want tightly focused edges, you want to work with a low Radius value, in my case, as I say, I'm defusing the edges. That's analogous, by the way, to the Radius value inside of Unsharp Mask and some of the other filters.
If you're looking for something along the lines of an amount value associated with Unsharp Mask, then you drop down here to Detail. And notice that I have the Detail cranked up 150%. I've taken the Exposure down. I've knocked down the Gamma a little bit. I've increased the Strength value so we have some very definite edges inside of this image. I've also increased the Vibrance value in order to strengthen some of the Saturation levels. And I'll go over to Curve here. I've applied a tonal curve in order to knock down some of these highlights in the background.
Now, one more thing that we need to do. I'm going to zoom in on this image beyond 100%. And notice, by the way, that when you see these zoom levels right here, that's HDR Pro telling you how big the preview is. This is not the final size of the image. The image is actually much larger than this. So this merely your preview into the image, but you can see how these highlights are breaking down right there. And this is what's known as ghosting. The idea is something inside the image moved from one exposure to the next. Now as I said, I was working with a tripod, and there was not a living organism inside of this barn.
This light movement here is a function of the earth spinning on its axis. So as a result, the sunlight moved, and HDR Pro isn't quite sure what to do with it. So if you run into something like this, you want to go ahead and turn on the Remove ghost check box. And what that forces HDR Pro to do is consult the original images and decide which image contains the best version of those highlights, and you may have seen those highlights switch slightly on those slats of wood. Notice also you get this green border around one of your images. That is the image that's being used as a source for this information.
I'm going to go ahead and switch to the fourth image here. And this is just a matter of trial and error. You'll have to experiment to see what works. But notice that that goes ahead and shifts those highlights once again, and they look much better this time around. Now I'm down inside of Merge to HDR Pro. So I'll go ahead and click on the OK button, which is hidden on my screen, but it's located in the lower right corner of the dialog box. And then you'll see a parade of progress bars as HDR calculates how to combine the images and then hands off the merged composite to Photoshop.
Now by default, you'll see the image in the 16-bit per channel space. Very likely, you'll want to apply a view more adjustments inside of Photoshop. I certainly am going to do that. I'm going to zoom in, and then I'll add Levels Adjustment layer. And I'm going to go ahead and take this Black point value up to 5, so that we clip some of the shadows in the image, and then I'm going to take up the Gamma value as well. And then finally, believe it or not, even though we have some very saturated colors inside of this wood, I'm going to increase the Vibrance even further by raising this Vibrance value up to 60.
And having done that, the final step is to go ahead and sharpen the detail inside the image. I'll go up to the Filter menu, I'll choose the Sharpen Command, and then I'll choose Smart Sharpen. And I've already established some settings in advance, so an Amount value of 200% and a Radius of 3 pixels. I've also set Remove to Lens Blur. But notice the detail inside of this image. Check out that rich detail inside of the wood. It's a little bit noisy. There is a lot of grain going on. That's to be expected when working with such long exposures, but it looks absolutely great, very gritty I think.
I'll go ahead and click OK in order to accept that effect. And now let's go ahead and compare this shot to a flat version of the photo. If I switch to my Full Screen mode so that we can take in the entire image, just for the sake of comparison. This is that fourth exposure that I used for purposes of determining the solution to the ghosting, a fairly flat photograph, and a little bit drab as well. And this is the HDR composite, thanks to the power and flexibility of HDR Pro inside of Photoshop CS5.
- Making sense of enhancements
- Applying HDR Pro adjustments and effects
- Refining masks
- Using the Puppet Warp tool
- Painting a photograph